Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt’s quintet, arguably one of the strongest working bands in jazz, has held together long enough to record four albums: November, Men of Honor, The Talented Mr. Pelt and this year’s Soul. There were new faces onstage, however, when Pelt arrived for a special birthday engagement at Smoke (November 11). Pianist Danny Grissett and bassist Dwayne Burno remained in place, bringing characteristic depth and poise to Pelt’s original material. On tenor sax, in JD Allen’s stead, was the inspired Roxy Coss, whose slow-burning and methodical approach paired well with Pelt’s more incendiary solos. Jonathan Barber, occupying Gerald Cleaver’s spot on drums, swung without inhibition and did much to enhance the music’s wide dynamic range. Having begun the second set with the intricate “Dreamcatcher,” Pelt transitioned immediately to Myron Walden’s slow and dreamlike “Pulse,” which elicited bluesy, carefully placed phrases from the leader at maximum volume — as if he were shouting to the streets just outside. On “Second Love,” the most straightforwardly lyrical piece, Pelt was subdued yet just as pointedly expressive. He put Barber in the spotlight after a full rotation of solos on the animated “Milo Hayward,” and closed with “What’s Wrong Is Right,” a forceful midtempo blues with no chordal backing (Grissett soloed with only his right hand). The pacing of the set was superb — Pelt knew exactly what he wanted, and his band was right there to do it. (David R. Adler)
Dormant for years, the Jazz Composers Collective reunited for a festival at Jazz Standard and closed out the week with the remarkable Herbie Nichols Project (November 11). This sextet’s sole purpose is to showcase the lost music of pianist/composer Nichols, one of jazz’s unheralded geniuses. To that end, pianist Frank Kimbrough, bassist Ben Allison and cohorts opened with “Wildflower,” encored with “Spinning Song” and got loose mid-set over the blazing tempo of “Crisp Day/Blue Chopsticks” — all from the band’s 1996 debut Love Is Proximity. Since then, however, there’s been a startling development: an old trunk containing manuscripts for over 160 Nichols compositions, long rumored lost in a flood, was recently located. The pieces range from the late ’50s to the early ’60s (Nichols died in 1963). “Tell the Birds I Said Hello,” the second tune of the set, was from this lost batch, and it found Michael Blake pondering a simple lyrical melody on soprano sax before yielding to solos from Kimbrough and trumpeter Ron Horton. “Games and Codes,” with Blake and Ted Nash on tenors, was a doleful ballad with laid-back swing passages and tight orchestration. “Blues No. 1” also featured dual tenors up front and a go-for-broke bass solo from Allison as the main focus. “Van Allen Belt,” a showstopper, inspired a fierce outpouring from Nash on alto. While Nichols’ tunes were nothing short of a revelation, the band’s interpretive prowess at every step was equally a thing of beauty. (DA)
If working bands are a rarity in jazz today, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt seems not to have gotten the memo. Soul is his fourth album to feature the same steady quintet lineup, with JD Allen on tenor, Danny Grissett on piano, Dwayne Burno on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. (The first, November, released by MaxJazz in 2008, was soon followed by the HighNote discs Men of Honor and The Talented Mr. Pelt.)
Rooted in an expansive, fiercely swinging, darkly hued sound reminiscent of Miles Davis’s mid-’60s quintet, Pelt’s group still has its own identity, and how could it not? These are leading players of our day, genuine personalities with bands of their own, and as a unit they have a way of reaching beyond themselves. Soul is their first collection devoted mainly (but not wholly) to ballads.
One could say that Soul burns at a lower temperature than Pelt’s previous efforts, but it burns nonetheless. The program, once again, is mostly original, although the quintet reworks George Cables’s “Sweet Rita Suite,” a waltz with an alluring piano/bass intro and a fine muted-trumpet turn from the leader. “Moondrift,” a lesser-known Sammy Cahn tune with a shining guest vocal by Philadelphia’s Joanna Pascale, is concise and perfectly placed, a gratifying departure.
The six remaining titles are Pelt’s, and they’re beautifully done. “Second Love,” the opener, is deeply meditative, a model of harmonic subtlety. The closing “Tonight…”, featuring Pelt in quartet mode without Allen, has a gentle but persistent rolling tempo anchored by Cleaver on mallets. While the music is horn-driven to a large extent, Grissett dominates “The Ballad of Ichabod Crane” and solos first on both “The Story” and “The Tempest,” putting the front line on notice. He’s the band’s not-so-secret weapon.
With “The Tempest” and “What’s Wrong Is Right,” Pelt stirs it up and brings Soul out of the ballad realm. The former slips between agitated 6/8 and 4/4, recalling a type of heightened rhythmic ambiguity once heard from Tony Williams. The latter is a strutting midtempo blues with no chords — Grissett doesn’t comp at all behind Pelt or Allen and then solos with his right hand exclusively. It’s an open-ended concept that harks back to Miles Smiles, and it moves the album deeper into uncharted waters.